It is surprising and somewhat alarming how common it is for these small household batteries to be swallowed by children, and the fatality rate has actually risen in the last decade. These batteries are small and sweet-shaped which makes them a hazard with young children around. Damage from swallowing the battery can occur within two hours so it is essential that removal takes place as soon as possible to reduce oesophageal damage. The battery reacts with the oesophagus tissue and saliva, forming a hydroxide-rich alkaline substance that damages tissue.
The symptoms of a child with an oesophageal button battery include:
- Sore Throat
- Noisy Breathing
- Finding it hard to swallow
The serious complications that could be caused by an oesophageal button battery include:
- Vocal cord paralysis
- Tissue erosion into major blood vessels or airways
- Oesophageal perforation leading to a chest infection
The longer it is between ingestion of the battery and the removal, the higher the risk of these serious complications. This has led to research being carried out into the effectiveness of certain household products that can help to reduce potential damage before the battery is successfully removed. Sodas, juices and sports drinks have all been tested, but honey has proven to be the most effective in protecting small children against button battery injury. This has been demonstrated by a team of ENT specialists at the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital, USA, who found that eating some honey after swallowing a button battery can help minimise injuries for young children. The research suggests that honey can reduce morbidity and mortality from the batteries significantly. The honey works by coating the battery thereby preventing the alkaline-rich solution from damaging tissue. It should not be used in children less than a year old or where there is a known allergy to honey. It is essential that the administration of the honey should not delay the transfer of the child to their nearest A&E department for definitive management. Obviously, it is also advised to ensure all batteries are kept out of reach of children and those that are in household items and toys should not be easily accessed.